My wife and I generally take good care of ourselves. We eat wisely (most of the time), exercise (less than we should), and make sure to get the sleep we need. And yet, we’ve lost much of our former energy while adding new aches and pains. Too often, we can’t hear, can’t think, or can’t remember. And did I mention that sometimes we can’t remember?
One thing has improved, though: our sense of humor. It has to.
It’s hard to accept Paul’s words about weakness and suffering. We live in a world that celebrates youth and vitality, strength and prowess, accomplishment and expertise. And to some extent, rightly so: these can be wondrous expressions of the minds and bodies God created us to have. But our exaltation of power often comes at the price of denigrating weakness. We shun weakness, and in so doing, double our suffering.
We’re just clay pots, Paul insists: ordinary, fragile. He says this to a church that venerates what the surrounding culture defines as strength and competence. That doesn’t mean, however, that Paul venerates weakness instead. Weakness isn’t something we seek; it will find us on its own.
For Paul, that weakness takes the form of suffering for proclaiming the gospel in hostile environments. For others, it may be something else. But his point is that God’s glory is revealed — and hopefully celebrated — when his power shines through our weakness.
That should say something to us about how and what we pray. Think about Jesus on his knees in Gethsemane, praying both “Father, take it away!” and “Your will be done.” When we suffer, we seem much more adept at the first prayer than the second. We’re far more likely, for example, to pray that God would miraculously heal a dying person than to pray that God’s glory would be revealed through the way that person faces death.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying there’s anything morally wrong with the first prayer; the memory of our Lord in Gethsemane should lay that idea to rest. What I’m concerned about, though, is the sneaking suspicion we may have that the second prayer is somehow less faithful, as if we didn’t believe that God could or would do a miracle. Or perhaps, less polite: isn’t “Take it away!” the only prayer we should pray in the presence of another’s suffering?
We are not asked to accept weakness as a good thing. But we are asked to believe that the Christian life embodies a hope for the future that defines a greater good in the present. Those who look forward to resurrection tomorrow want to live today in a way that points others toward the same hope.
So, go ahead: pray that God would take away whatever you or others may suffer, and do so in good conscience. Just make sure to finish the prayer: Thy will be done, for the sake of God’s kingdom.